1960 Dorsey Burnette – (There Was A) Tall Oak Tree
Dorsey Burnett and his brother Johnny were born in the early thirties and grew up in Memphis. They each learned to play guitar and also shared an interest in boxing. Each of them won a local Golden Gloves championship. They became friends with another young boxer, Paul Burlison.
After high school, Paul joined the army and Dorsey briefly pursued a career as a professional boxer before working other odd jobs. Johnny and Dorsey both worked on steamboats and would spend their spare time writing songs and playing their guitars.
By 1953, Paul got out of the army, and the three young men formed their own musical group. In 1956 they moved to New York City and began performing as the Rock And Roll Trio. Three wins on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour got them a contract with Coral Records, a few television appearances, and the chance to work on a Summer tour headlined by Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent.
The trio released a few records that failed to chart. After a fight with his brother, Dorsey quit the group and another bass player took his place in the group. They had a few more failed singles, and the group disbanded completely in 1957.
The brothers decided to get Ricky Nelson to record some of the songs they had written. They simply sat on Ricky’s doorstep until he agreed to listen to some of their music. The brothers impressed Ricky enough that he later recorded several of their songs, including Believe What You Say and It’s Late.
The brothers released several rockabilly singles between 1958 and 1960 with little to show for their efforts.
Dorsey wrote the song Tall Oak Tree and offered to let Ricky record it, but when Ricky turned it down, Dorsey recorded the song himself. The single reached #23 on the Hot 100 in 1960.
Dorsey co-wrote Hey Little One, and that single reached #48 on the chart later that year. Glen Campbell covered the song in 1967 and did about the same on the pop chart, reaching #54 on the Hot 100. Fortunately, Glen’s version also reached #20 on the Easy Listening chart and #13 on the Country chart.
Dorsey released several more singles in the next year, but none of them even reached the Hot 100. Meanwhile, his brother Johnny had four top twenty singles in 1960 and 1961. Johnny died in a boating accident in 1964, and Dorsey’s career faded quickly.
In the early seventies, Dorsey became a born-again Christian and returned to singing Country music. He recorded albums and singles through the end of the seventies and racked up four top forty Country singles during that time. He died from a heart attack in 1979 at the age of only 46.
Dorsey’s son Billy became a member of Fleetwood Mac for six years, beginning in 1987.
Dorsey’s nephew Rocky Burnette had a top ten hit with Toein’ The Line in 1980.
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